Breaking Up is Hard to Do – and Should be

Loren Kaye
President of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education

Tim Draper believes California is three states struggling within the boundaries of one, and wants to set them free. Voters will have the chance in November to decide if they share his vision that more governments make better governance.

Spoiler Alert: Breaking up is hard to do – which is a very good thing. The “Division into Three States” measure is disingenuous, distracting and dangerous.

For all our successes, and for all the wonder with which we are held globally, California has many problems.

But serious people quickly learn that if you are sincerely committed to fixing a problem, you must fix the problem.

Division into Three States doesn’t fix a single problem. It makes all our problems objectively worse in the hope that others more enlightened and practical will roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

The proponent has identified a list of ills that beset California, from low graduation rates to poor road quality to high taxes and overcrowded prisons.

As for this initiative, it does nothing to advance a solution to any of these problems. This measure adds not one new teacher to our high schools, not one new mile of road constructed, nor sentences or crimes modified.

California’s central challenge is to reconcile the pluralistic demands of diverse interests in a dynamic nation-state, and advance the overall welfare of our citizenry. This initiative declares that surrender to this test is a better option than rising to the challenge.

It is disingenuous to suggest to voters that the measure is a solution to a variety of ills, when it accomplishes nothing more than drawing two more lines on the map of the United States.

Rather than seeking to solve the very real problems before us, this measure instead creates an entirely new suite of problems to distract and consume voters, political leaders, concerned citizens and ordinary residents.

Sadly, Californians don’t exhibit a robust bandwidth for state issues. Turnout at the June primary will likely be less than 40 percent. The last thing we need on the ballot now is a measure infamous solely for its audacity.

It doesn’t take much imagination to predict the one political debate that out-of-state media will grab onto to capture the California zeitgeist. Not privacy. Not rent control. Not the fate of new transportation revenues. Not updating Prop 13 after 40 years. No, it will be an only-in-California story about redesigning the 31st state to create new states 51 and 52.

What would be the practical implication of voter approval to break up California?

The implementation challenges are daunting, to say the least: redistributing state assets, assigning new state responsibilities, not to mention addressing the inherent inequities that will arise from an arbitrary geographical division of economic, financial, physical and cultural patrimonies.

The original state of California would be obligated to spend tens of millions of dollars on establishment of three conventions in each of the new proto-states to devise a constitution and set of laws. This would require a delegate selection process, meetings, staff and legal support and outreach. The state would likely need to defend against vigorous litigation on the validity of the measure and on many aspects of the process of division.

Then, each of the three new states would become start-up ventures, requiring:

  • Elections of new statewide and legislative officials.
  • Appointment of new executive branch officers and recruitment/hiring of staff.
  • Appointment of new judges.
  • Negotiation and development of new contracts with local governments, federal government, private vendors, and grantees.
  • Adoption of new codes, including government, civil, tax, criminal, etc.

Then, the fun begins. How to divide the assets and liabilities of Old California? For example:

  • University of California and California State University campus tuition policiesfor incumbent students, with out-of-state tuition costs for students potentially reaching $2 billion.
  • Responsibilities for prisoners domiciled in one state that were committed from another.
  • Responsibility for payment of water, power and other infrastructure assets located in one state that serve residents of other states.
  • Responsibilities for water delivery are even more fraught. Most of new “California’s” and much of “Southern California’s” water supplies are located in a different state, and may have to traverse a second state to reach their destination. To whom would the Colorado River Compact apply?

What’s more, each new Legislature or constitutional convention would need to decide what of the California political legacy to retain – and what to jettison. Whither Prop 13 – or Prop 98? Will there be a reapportionment commission? Or the death penalty? Would any of the hard-fought political battles over ballot measures, whether reflecting a victory of the left or right, survive into the new regimes?

The likelihood of Congress approving such a scheme is nil – the last state created from within another was during the Civil War. Voters should save Congress the trouble.

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